Developing literacy skills is pivotal to children’s education, allowing them to unlock opportunities, prosperity, and welfare. Sadly, 54% of American adults between ages 16 and 74 lack proficiency in literacy, suggesting a need for increased investment in promoting these skills from childhood onwards. The home environment plays a vital role in this endeavor, as schools often lack the resources to provide the individual attention required to create proficient readers, writers, and speakers.
Children in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities face more significant barriers to developing literacy proficiency, with 80% losing reading skills over summer breaks due to limited access to reading and writing resources. Young people are more likely to thrive as learners in households with an active focus on reading, writing, and verbal communication. In celebration of National Family Literacy Month this November, we will delve into accessible strategies for developing literacy skills at home.
What are literacy skills, and why are they important?
Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak, and listen in ways that enable effective communication and meaning-making. These skills are the building blocks of education in any subject, but they determine far more than school test scores. Poor literacy skills will hold a person back throughout life, with strong links to poverty and shorter life expectancies. Research also shows that those with low literacy levels are more likely to suffer loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Comprehending and using language effectively, in both written and oral forms, allows for enhanced communication, a deeper understanding of the world, and the clear expression of thoughts and emotions. It is the key to accessing knowledge, forging connections with others, and navigating the complexities of life.
Children raised in literacy-rich homes tend to exhibit higher reading knowledge and skills. When parents display positive attitudes towards language development at home, they’re more likely to inspire the same in their children. Family literacy activities don’t always involve formal teaching, and everything from daily conversations to shared reading can enrich children’s lives as they acquire these vital skills.
Strategies for developing literacy at home
Building literacy skills can be as simple as talking together as a family. Regularly conversing with your child offers meaningful language experiences that become associated with the emotional safety of the parent-child bond. Be sure to listen as much as you talk, and be curious about your child’s point of view. Furthermore, sharing family stories within these conversations can be a great way to foster a sense of shared history, belonging, and a love for storytelling.
Technology plays a vital role in diversifying literacy experiences in this digital age. Many games and apps have a literary element, challenging children to engage with language interactively. For example, online phonics games are invaluable for elementary-aged children, while older children can solve word puzzles such as Worlde. Teens with mobile phones can explore the immersive fantasy world of Lost Words: Beyond the Page, an uplifting narrative adventure. It’s essential to be present with children and talk to them about their experiences with technology so you are attuned to their acquisition of language skills and can intervene if necessary.
Only some homes have shelves of books, so joining your local library is an excellent way to promote family literacy. Libraries offer free resources, learning spaces, events, and knowledgeable staff members. Children can choose books, facilitating their agency and self-motivated discovery. With library books, families can read together and engage in discussions. Asking open questions about the book your child is reading invites the use of their interpretive skills and imagination. Your interest in their reading will motivate them by associating books with meaningful conversations and bonding.
Create a Reading Space:
A cozy, well-lit space within the home can encourage daily reading and writing habits. A designated reading area can become a great source of emotional comfort for children, inviting their immersion in stories and language. If children are involved in creating this space, they will feel a sense of ownership over their journey to develop literacy skills.
When a child receives a gift from a friend or relative, ask them to write a thank you note to practice writing skills. You can also exchange letters with your children, decorated with drawings or collage elements. The two-way nature of this activity leads to a real sense of reward for developing literacy skills, as thoughtful and creative letters become keepsakes that carry emotional value. Alternatively, they can exchange letters with their friends over the holidays, a unique and exciting way to keep in touch for those more accustomed to text messages and calls.
Discover Your Child’s Interests:
Discovering their interests can be a game-changer for children less inclined to read. Genuinely caring about their passions encourages open communication supporting language development. Parents can research language-rich experiences related to their child’s interests and integrate them informally into daily life, creating a home literacy environment that supports the child’s desires. For example, children drawn to music might enjoy writing lyrics and discovering technical vocabulary related to pitch, rhythm, and tempo. Those who like to play outside may prefer to learn the names of plants and even make up their own.
Television and Film:
While reading and writing are essential, television and film offer an alternative medium for enhancing children’s vocabulary and understanding of language. For reluctant readers, movies based on books can make the book feel more accessible. Furthermore, many characters in popular shows for young people use literacy skills to decode puzzles and solve mysteries. For instance, in A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Baudelaire children rely on book knowledge to save them from danger and learn the truth about their lives. For younger children, Dora the Explorer encourages oral participation and multilingual literacy. Using these mediums mindfully can unlock a fascination with language.
Look Beyond Traditional Media:
Introduce children to diverse forms of media, such as comics and audiobooks. These mediums can serve as gateways to literature, offering fresh perspectives and cultivating visual and aural literacy. For instance, comic books and graphic novels create a dialogue between words and images, enriching a child’s understanding of multimodal storytelling. Meanwhile, audiobooks help children understand pronunciation and the sounds of language, attuning them to the nuances of speech.
Developing literacy skills at home is conducive to academic success and a brighter, healthier future. By promoting a love for reading, writing, and speaking, we empower children with the tools they need to thrive. Families play an essential role in nurturing these skills, and even with limited resources you can create a rich and dynamic home literacy environment.
Children who have missed out on literacy development may need further support with their education. At Educate. Radiate. Elevate., our tutors provide no-cost student-centered learning to underserved students focusing on academic, social-emotional, and soft skills development. We take a holistic approach backed by research, and our work has a tangible impact on student outcomes. To celebrate National Family Literacy Month, donate to E.R.E. so that we can continue to support our most vulnerable youth.